OF THE YOUNG PEOPLE, not reckoning the countess's elder daughter (who was four years older than her sister and behaved quite like a grown-up person) and the young lady visitor, there were left in the drawing-room Nikolay and Sonya, the niece. Sonya was a slender, miniature brunette, with soft eyes shaded by long lashes, thick black hair twisted in two coils round her head, and a skin of a somewhat sallow tint, particularly marked on her bare, thin, but shapely, muscular arms and neck. The smoothness of her movements, the softness and flexibility of her little limbs, and something of slyness and reserve in her manner, suggested a lovely half-grown kitten, which would one day be a charming cat. Apparently she thought it only proper to show an interest in the general conversation and to smile. But against her own will, her eyes turned under their thick, long lashes to her cousin, who was going away into the army, with such girlish, passionate adoration, that her smile could not for one moment impose upon any one, and it was clear that the kitten had only perched there to skip off more energetically than ever and to play with her cousin as soon as they could, like Boris and Natasha, get out of the drawing-room.
“Yes, ma chère,” said the old count, addressing the visitor and pointing to his Nikolay; “here his friend Boris has received his commission as an officer, and he's so fond of him he doesn't want to be left behind, and is giving up the university and his poor old father to go into the army, ma chère. And there was a place all ready for him in the archives department, and all. Isn't that friendship now?” said the count interrogatively.
“But they do say that war has been declared, you know,” said the visitor.
“They've been saying so a long while,” said the count. “They'll say so again and again, and so it will remain. There's friendship for you, ma chère!” he repeated. “He's going into the hussars.”
The visitor, not knowing what to say, shook her head.
“It's not from friendship at all,” answered Nikolay, flushing hotly, and denying it as though it were some disgraceful imputation. “Not friendship at all, but simply I feel drawn to the military service.”
He looked round at his cousin and the young lady visitor; both looked at him with a smile of approval.
“Schubert's dining with us to-night, the colonel of the Pavologradsky regiment of hussars. He has been here on leave, and is taking him with him. There's no help for it,” said the count, shrugging his shoulder and speaking playfully of what evidently was a source of much distress to him.
“I've told you already, papa,” said his son, “that if you're unwilling to let me go, I'll stay. But I know I'm no good for anything except in the army. I'm not a diplomatist, or a government clerk. I'm not clever at disguising my feelings,” he said, glancing repeatedly with the coquetry of handsome youth at Sonya and the young lady.
The kitten, her eyes riveted on him, seemed on the point of breaking into frolic, and showing her cat-like nature.
“Well, well, it's all-right!” said the old count; “he always gets so hot. Bonaparte's turned all their heads; they're all dreaming of how he rose from a lieutenant to be an emperor. Well, and so may it turn out again, please God,” he added, not noticing the visitor's sarcastic smile.
While their elders began talking about Bonaparte, Julie, Madame Karagin's daughter, turned to young Rostov.
“What a pity you weren't at the Arharovs' on Thursday. I was so dull without you,” she said, giving him a tender smile. The youth, highly flattered, moved with a coquettish smile nearer her, and entered into a conversation apart with the smiling Julie, entirely unaware that his unconscious smile had dealt a jealous stab to the heart of Sonya, who was flushing crimson and assuming a forced smile. In the middle of his talk with Julie he glanced round at her. Sonya gave him an intensely furious look, and, hardly able to restrain her tears, though there was still a constrained smile on her lips, she got up and went out of the room. All Nikolay's animation was gone. He waited for the first break in the conversation, and, with a face of distress, walked out of the room to look for Sonya.
“How all the young things wear their hearts on their sleeves!” said Anna Mihalovna, pointing to Nikolay's retreating figure. “Cousinage, dangereux voisinage,” she added.
“Yes,” said the countess, when the sunshine that had come into the drawing-room with the young people had vanished. She was, as it were, replying to a question which no one had put to her, but which was always in her thoughts: “What miseries, what anxieties one has gone through for the happiness one has in them now! And even now one feels really more dread than joy over them. One's always in terror! At this age particularly when there are so many dangers both for girls and boys.”
“Everything depends on bringing up,” said the visitor.
“Yes, you are right,” the countess went on. “So far I have been, thank God, my children's friend and have enjoyed their full confidence,” said the countess, repeating the error of so many parents, who imagine their children have no secrets from them. “I know I shall always be first in my children's confidence, and that Nikolay, if, with his impulsive character, he does get into mischief (boys will be boys) it won't be like these Petersburg young gentlemen.”
“Yes, they're capital children, capital children,” assented the count, who always solved all perplexing questions by deciding that everything was capital. “Fancy now, his taking it into his head to be an hussar! But what can one expect, ma chère?”
“What a sweet little thing your younger girl is!” said the visitor. “Full of fun and mischief!”
“Yes, that she is,” said the count. “She takes after me! And such a voice; though she's my daughter, it's the truth I'm telling you, she'll be a singer, another Salomini. We've engaged an Italian to give her lessons.”
“Isn't it too early? They say it injures the voice to train it at that age.”
“Oh, no! Too early!” said the count. “Why, our mothers used to be married at twelve and thirteen.”
“Well, she's in love with Boris already! What do you say to that?” said the countess, smiling softly and looking at Boris's mother. And apparently in reply to the question that was always in her mind, she went on: “Why, you know, if I were strict with her, if I were to forbid her…God knows what they might not be doing in secret” (the countess meant that they might kiss each other), “but as it is I know every word she utters. She'll come to me this evening and tell me everything of herself. I spoil her, perhaps, but I really believe it's the best way. I brought my elder girl up more strictly.”
“Yes, I was brought up quite differently,” said the elder girl, the handsome young Countess Vera; and she smiled. But the smile did not improve Vera's face; on the contrary her face looked unnatural, and therefore unpleasing. Vera was good-looking; she was not stupid, was clever at her lessons, and well educated; she had a pleasant voice, and what she said was true and appropriate. But, strange to say, every one—both the visitor and the countess—looked at her, as though wondering why she had said it, and conscious of a certain awkwardness.
“People are always too clever with their elder children; they try to do something exceptional with them,” said the visitor.
“We won't conceal our errors, ma chère! My dear countess was too clever with Vera,” said the count. “But what of it? she has turned out capitally all the same,” he added, with a wink of approval to Vera.
The guests got up and went away, promising to come to dinner.
“What manners! Staying on and on!” said the countess, when she had seen her guests out.